Cold and stressed, that’s how Anuradha Bhatia recalls her Delhi winter mornings. The routine would begin with her waking up at the crack of dawn, resisting the unforgiving chill. And then rushing her kids through their morning rituals followed by a hurried sprint with a torch in hand to the bus stop. “It was torture! The worst part was one could not even figure out which school’s bus had arrived — is it Delhi Public School, Modern or Bal Bharati? They all looked the same in the fog and they would arrive at the same time. Thank god, we’re past that stage!” she heaves a sigh of a relief.
While this school ritual may have proved to be a turmoil for several others in Delhi, it was particularly harsh on the Bhatias. Why so? Both the IAS officers from the Maharashtra cadre were accustomed to the simple groove of smaller towns such as Pune, Kolhapur, Aurangabad and Nagpur before their six-year-long stint in Delhi. Balancing work with home was also not strenuous. Their eldest daughter, Astha, was born in Kolhapur in 1988 and the younger one, Sargam, was born in 1992. “Both were small towns. So we lived in leisure with good domestic help given that the office was also close-by. Life around 29 years ago was easy,” she adds.
All went well for this family of four till the couple was posted in the capital. The natural benefit of having their parents around to chip in was subsumed by the arduous process of securing the girls an admission mid-way. “We thought we were VIPs so things would be easy. But, in Delhi everyone is a VIP,” laughs Anuradha. After a lot of perseverance, the girls joined Delhi Public School but the parents couldn’t relax just yet because then came the barrage of parental responsibilities — daily homework, PTA meetings, semester exams and making up for the absence of the maid on days they had an important work commitment. “Thankfully, we had our parents in the same city, but I was always on the edge,” Anuradha recalls.
Just as they were settling down, life delivered an unexpected blow in the form of personal loss to the Bhatia family. In 1999, Anuradha lost her brother-in-law (younger sister’s husband) in an accident and right after that she lost an uncle, who passed away after a heart attack. Given that the couple was very close to both the families, coping with their deaths was not easy. “Till then, we were IAS and IRS officers with a clear objective in life. Suddenly, we were haunted by questions about our purpose in life.” That’s when Sanjay Bhatia looked for answers in books on spirituality. “The only consistent message that came across was that meditation could lead one to self-realisation,” he adds. He attempted an 11-day course in vipassana, and continued his search for inner peace for nearly six years. “I used to meditate for four hours a day, and pursue some seven types of meditation,” he describes his older routine that left wife, Anuradha, and his daughters worried.
Sanjay remained oblivious to this displeasure until he returned home one day post one such course to find his wife with her hand fractured and visibly miffed. “With the kids being young and nobody at home to support her, she became anti-meditation. She asked me, ‘Family ki koi responsibility hai ki nahi?’ (Are you not concerned about your family responsibility?).” And just before Sanjay was preparing to slow down his recreational pursuit, he was introduced to an experiential form of meditation that relies on yogic transmission, called ‘heartfulness’. This involves meditating alongside a preceptor, someone who has already acquired yogic energy. “I attended a few sessions and I felt an internal change. Previously, I would follow someone’s instructions with the expectation that I will feel something someday. I left all of that and only focused on heartfulnes and it has changed my life,” he shares.
But the transformation in the Bhatia clan didn’t stop with just Sanjay. His wife began taking an interest in the practice when she found a noticeable change in her husband. “I was an aggressive Punjabi, I mellowed down and everyone at home could see that,” he adds. Anuradha accompanied him to meet the late Parthasarathi Rajagopalachari, the former head of Sahaj Marg practice at the Shri Ram Chandra Mission, fondly called ‘Chariji’ by his followers. “He was 84 then, and very peaceful. Anuradha and the children fell in love with him.” And that’s how he got his wife to take up the practice and both are preceptors now.
With both parents having become ardent followers of the practice, the story of the girls adopting the same is a delightful story. “We wondered what was happening to the two of them. Mom became this calm person, which she was not. Papa became the peacemaker and stopped reacting to things. He used to be really short-fused,” Astha recalls. She and her sister visited ‘Chariji’ before a vacation in Dubai, which is when the yoga master asked them to meet a celebrity while in the Emirate — DJ Kambiz. Why so? Turns out Kambiz was a preceptor and like Chariji intended, he managed to influence the teenagers to try the meditation technique. “We were just stunned. A DJ, who is into meditation? I thought to myself, Wow! Even cool people do this,” says Astha. And then convincing her younger sister didn’t take much effort, “When I took the sitting for the first time, I was tearing up continuously. Chariji told me it’s an outpouring of pent up negative energy,” Sargam reveals.
Sanjay and Anuradha credit their freehand parenting approach to the Sahaj Marg technique. “It’s the best thing we could have given the girls.” Astha, who got married recently, shares, “I would not have been able to go through with all the arrangements had I not been meditating. I am an emotional person, and like things to be my way, but my weekly ritual and dad’s constant advice to view an issue from different angles, helps me stay rational.” Sargam also shares similar thoughts about how her father has played a big role in leading the way on how to deal with a stressful situation.
The girls recall an episode from their teens when they got into a fight where after a shouting match, the younger one left home without informing. Being the tactful elder sister, Astha managed to know of her whereabouts by tricking her into believing she would be arrested if she didn’t return home. While Anuradha picked up her daughter from a friend’s place and was furious, Sanjay dealt with it calmly. “He plays a role in how we react to situations,” says Sargam of the peaceful approach.
Sanjay agrees that he is indeed a changed man since the past 17 years; his social life has changed from heading to the bar with friends to meditating with the neighbours. Sunday and Wednesday evenings are reserved for this pursuit. Non-vegetarian food has been relinquished. “Personally, more balance has come into life, creativity and concentration levels have gone up, and if the kids have imbibed the same, then there is nothing else I can ask for,” says the content parent.